By Suma Varughese
Synthesis through self-awareness and spirituality is the new mantra at some of the management schools in India
They speak a new language on the management campus these days: Sanskrit. The buzz words in business circles are no longer TQM (Total Quality Management) or Kaizan. They are Ahm Brahmasmi (I am God) and Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That). And for the aspiring managers, the new Bible is the Bhagavad Gita.
In its ’90s avatar, Indian spirituality is sashaying down corporate corridors, ready for business. The quest for self-awareness, once confined to mystics and spiritual adepts, is bursting out of secret places to fertilize mainstream business activity. By now it has gone well beyond the mandatory yoga and meditation, the only indigenous concepts to have gained corporate acceptance, albeit disguised as stress relievers, in the past few years. The gloves are finally off.
Industry is boldly mining the depths of Indian wisdom, the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, looking for a framework springing from Indian roots and thought. ‘It is time we rediscover our own ethos and cultural context if we are to give meaningful and relevant management education,’ says S.K. Chakraborty, convener of the Management Center for Human Values at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta.
At the Himachal Futuristic Communication Ltd. (HFCL), Delhi, managers and senior staff tune into fortnightly lectures on Indian philosophy. Alacrity Foundation, a premier construction company in Chennai, practices human values such as integrity (reportedly, they have never given a bribe), trust, and the welfare of others. Industries like Excel and Nirlep also encourage worker participation and try to create a stress-free, familial work atmosphere.
Much of the credit for this new synthesis of spirituality and materialism goes to the resurgence of some spiritual organizations and their new found popularity among urban westernized professionals. The Mount Abu-based Brahma Kumaris regularly teach corporate clients the value of listening, tolerance, adaptability and decision-making through the practice of Raja Yoga.
Two other programs that have made steady inroads at the corporate level are the Rishi Samskruti Vidya Kendra’s (RSVK) Siddha Samadhi Yoga (SSY) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living course.
Management consultants, many of them Vedantists and swamis, are also entering the fray. Swami Someshwarananda, founder of the Vivekananda Centre for Indian Management in Indore, outlines three reasons for developing an Indian style of management: ‘To have an appropriate management style in India; to show how ethical values help in every aspect of industry and business; and to show that a great achiever can lead a peaceful life.’
Suresh Pandit, a productivity expert, endorses the use of Indian concepts along with the standard western practices. ‘There is power in the concept, which often brings about a total change in attitude,’ he says. But the greatest catalyst for this change are the management institutes which have designed their curriculum In line with eastern thinking.
Some spiritual organizations have themselves entered the field of management education. Mata Amritanandamayi Math has opened the Center for Value-Based Management Education at Ettimadai, Coimbatore in India. Maharshi Mahesh Yogi’s organization has five centers of management study in the country. The emphasis here is not so much on spiritual and ethical principles as on expansion of consciousness through meditation, yogic techniques and creative thinking.
IIM’s capitulation to this new thinking through its Management Centre for Human Values has given the changeover much-needed credibility, even among hard-core champions of western empirical thought. The center came about, admits Dr Chakraborty, when managers attending the Executive Development Program questioned the absence of concepts from Indian philosophy in the curriculum.
Says he: ‘Management in action is a holistic process. Nowhere in our education, least of all in our management training, is it taught so. We are told to be rational and to concentrate on analysis. This fragmentation of the mind into analysis/rationality and emotions sets up a gap in our values.’ A growing number of autonomous management institutes have consciously veered in the direction of IIM.
In Mumbai, the SP Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPlIMR) has established a reputation for value-based education, emphasizing adoption of values, social sensitivity, team spirit, student participation in administration, and a month-long social project with the underprivileged. The Srihgeri Sharada Institute of Management in New Delhi and the Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development (SCMHRD) in Pune, unabashed advocates of Vedantic thought, aim at synthesizing holistic Indian concepts with modern management techniques.
Says Dr MB Athreya, adviser to the Sringeri Institute: ‘Our graduates will have the intellectual equipment to be competent decision-makers as well as congruent leaders pursuing shreshta dharma (responsibility of the elite) for atmano mokshartam(realizing one’s self).’ The implication is that the application of Indian philosophical and spiritual concepts has the potential to become the Indian industry’s USP; our indigenous secret potion, promising an Asterix-like invincibility and indomitability.
SCMHRD agenda includes helping students discover their powerful creative selves through yoga, pranayam, vipassana, SSY meditation, and various team-oriented activities. In his book Indian Wisdom for Management, Swami Someshwarananda writes that the main character of Indian culture is synthesis. It is an ability to reconcile contradictions, a movement from opposing choices to converging ones. Indian thought can thus reconcile contradictions and conflicts inherent in the materialistic, capitalistic business model of our times: the conflict between trade unions and management, between colleagues for top jobs, between companies for market shares, between industry and environment, and above all, within the individual, for whom success is increasingly extracted at the cost of peace of mind and happiness.
Swami Someshwarananda pinpoints three primary concepts. One is the dual mantra, Ahm Brahmasmi and Tat Tvam Asi. The second is advaita or non-duality—in other words, the holistic principle mentioned earlier. The third is the emphasis on subjective factors such as vision, foresight, courage, determination rather than on tangible objective factors such as money and material goods.
The focus shifts from the external to the internal; the motive from profit to service and personal growth; the means from capital and natural resources to human ones. Says Swami Someshwarananda: ‘From profit we must make the objective people-oriented. I recommend to all my clients that they take two to three minutes off each morning to chant a mantra: ‘I work for the people, I work for the nation’.’ He concludes: ‘If we can make goodness effective, it will show better dividends.’
Suresh Pandit cites the case of Standard Electricals Ltd., manufacturers of circuit breakers and electrical switch gears in Jalandhar. He taught them the value of shifting from shakti (adversarial) mode to bhakti (nurturing) mode in dealing with the employees. When the implementation of these concepts produced record production levels, Pandit suggested that in the remaining two months of the financial year, they try to make up for the shortfall in the projected production and profit levels.
Having budgeted for Rs 28 crore sales and RS 1.8 crore profit for 1994-95, they had made only RS 20 crore sale and RS 50 lakh profit. After obtaining the workers’ permission and commitment to the project, they secured an impressive RS 4 crore sale and a profit of RS 50 lakh in the next two months. Pandit feels that IM which ‘doesn’t work with multinationals’, produces good results in the less literate and more traditional segments of society.
‘People reach out to these concepts like the parched earth receiving rain.’ Management institutes implementing IM principles have been remarkably successful. SPJIMR is listed as one of the 10 best management schools in the country, while SCMHRD had over 9,500 aspirants for 90 seats in 1997 and attracted 112 campus corporate recruiters. The ironies are rich. While the more conventional disciplines from primary school to the liberal arts remain dissociated from the ethos of the land, a ‘mercenary’ subject like business management has, in its pursuit of materialism, come face-to-face with the rarefied zone of spirituality.
Introduced by Americans to establish and entrench their business practices such as individuality and competition, management studies are now veering to their opposites: teamwork, cooperation and even service. The time seems peculiarly rife for a resurgence in eastern thought. One reason, of course, is the proven success of the Japanese model of management based on Buddhism and Shintoism, which reflects Indian ideas. When the Japanese proved that holistic principles such as TQM and Kaizan made brilliant business sense, the whole world sat up to take note.
So did we. Says Anil Sachdev, Eicher MD: ‘We realized after talking to the Japanese that the change has to be brought about within oneself.’ And this movement within can be perfected by our culture. Says Rishi Prabhakar, founder of the RSVK: “The sages of the past have given us the best possible tradition and knowledge… This would not be found at Harvard Business School.’
What has given a crucial impetus to the implementation of IM is that the business imperatives of globalization and the quickening pace of obsolescence call for a fluid, horizontal, de-structured organization which eastern thinking with its emphasis on internal resources facilitates. The root of IM is the Vedantic concept of oneness. The universe, and all in it, is one interconnected indivisible whole.
From this understanding radiate all the concepts associated with Indian thought such as: the whole affects the part and vice versa. Just as a human being is a composite of body, mind and soul, so too, the employee, the company and society are seen as one unit. ‘Can an employee grow at the cost of the company or the company at the cost of society?’ asks Swami Someshwarananda.
Holistic thinking reconciles contradictions. Emotions and intellect are no longer at war, but seen as crucial halves of the whole. Says Dr Chakraborty: ‘Holism is synthesis, the union of analytical intellect and emotion, the united mind with the all-enveloping vision.’ ‘Management has to be a function of brain, heart and guts,’ says Dr Manesh Shrikant, honorary dean of SPJIMR.
For Dr Chakraborty, the crucial Indian concept is that of antardrisbti, which he describes as a penetration to the heart of the matter. But such limpid clarity of mind calls for two qualities: stillness and purity, in other words, antarmukhita (drawing the senses within) and antarshuddbi, (inner purification). It is this state of mind he hopes to cultivate in his Center for Human Values.
A basic Indian concept, Swami Someshwarananda says, is that of self-sustenance, the establishment of systems that will run by themselves, needing little or no outside help or supervision. He cites the instances of Lijjat Papad, the Udipi hotels with their lightning speed and efficiency, and the local grocer to highlight Indian practices such as flexibility, role rotation and individual empowerment.
‘Indians are fantastic,’ enthuses the swami, ‘all they need is self-confidence.’ Dr Chakraborty sees IM as allowing the cultivation of noble emotions and human values such as gratitude, humility, contentment, transparency, truthfulness and forgiveness. Thus Indian Management focuses on transformation of the individual as the source of all external transformation, unlike the western model which advocates transformation of the environment as the means to individual transformation.
Parallels and parables are drawn from the Jataka, the Puranas, Panchatantra and Mahabharata, the ancient Indian literary texts and epics. Says Swami Someshwarananda to illustrate the need for individuality: ‘We do not care to know the names of the 100 Kauravas (one of the two feuding families in Mahabharata) because they were copies of Duryodhan, while each of the Pandavas was unique. Make yourself a Pandava.‘
He has also derived such Indian ideas as the Arjun model of management, the Namaskar, the Eklavya, Pancha Bhuta, Shiva-Shakti and Krishna models. With its emphasis on values and the welfare of the whole, IM has the potential to reconcile prosperity and productivity with social equity, social need, peace and harmony.
It can synthesize the private initiative of capitalism with the social justice of communism. And it alone can restrain business from generating greed, consumerism and environmental degradation. It is the Indian vision brought to life, dreamed by all sages and philosophers from Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo to S. Radhakrishnan, and likely to be realized, strangely enough, by the Indian corporate world.
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